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RADLab - Teach Radioactivity in the Classroom

Installed on a classroom computer or as a freeware application that your students can install on their own computer, the RADLab provides a way to perform radiation experience without risking actual radiation exposure in the classroom.

There are many topics in science that are difficult to teach because of the complex subject matter. Teaching about radioactive decay and radioactivity is no exception. Between understanding the behavior of radioactive particles and the idea of the decay of those particles over time, radiation presents some of the most difficult subjects to teach.

Thankfully, there is a Windows application that can help. Installed on a classroom computer or as an application that your students can install on their own computer, RADLab provides a way to perform radiation experience without risking actual radiation exposure in the classroom.

RADLab is an educational application developed by Dagistan Sahin, Sena Sahin and Korcan Kayrin. It allows both parents and teachers to walk older students through experiments with radioactive particles that show how radioactive particles behave, and what the graphed signatures of those particles will look like using different instruments, and placing the particles at different distances from the detector.

RADLab - Teaching Radiation Safely

If you're a science teacher and the idea of teaching things like gamma spectroscopy, alpha spectroscopy and thermal flux sounds very intriguing to you, then RADLab is for you.

RADLab is a Windows-based application that you will need to install on individual computers. While the lab software itself is not web-based, you can always share pre-configured experiments by storing the experiment files on a network that students can access from within the school.

Not only will using RADLab teach students about radiation and radioactive particles, but it is also a great way to teach students how to wire together and make use of advanced lab instruments like a multichannel analyzer (MCA) or an oscilloscope.

When you first install and launch the application, you'll need to create a new user. In the case of a classroom PC, each student can have their own user account so that their experiments and work can be saved under a unique account.

teaching about radioactive decay
Running RADLab

Once the application is started, you can start building experiments from scratch, or you can select from a few pre-configured experiments that come packaged with the application.

To review the available experiments, just click on "File" and then "Select Experiment".

teaching about radioactive decay
Selecting Experiments

There are currently five experiments that come with the application. Each of these experiments includes pre-written experiment sheets that describe the lab instruments required to perform the tests, the purpose of the experiment, and a step-by-step procedure detailing how to perform the experiment.

When you select any of these experiments, the experiment sheet becomes the current loaded sheet, and the left navigation bar will automatically load with all of the instruments that you need for the experiment.

teaching about radioactivity
Setting the Experiment of the Lab

Depending on the experiment that you choose, instruments will include a grouping of different radiation sources, different instruments like Amplifiers, a power supply or a multiplexer, and measurement instruments like an MCA or an Oscilloscope.

You can start building your virtual experiment by clicking on the object in the menu and placing them into the experiment simulation area in the center pane. As you are building the experiment, you can consider it in "pause" mode. The experiment will only become active once you click on the "Run" button in the navigation bar.

You can start linking together the instruments by choosing from four signal cables - regular, logic, HV or pre-amp cables.

teaching about radioactivity
Connection Cables

Throughout the experiment, you can keep referring back to the experiment sheet by clicking on "View" and choosing "View Experiment Sheet".

This will open up the experiment details in a pop-up window. You can actually move this window to the side so that you can read through the experiment sheet while you're performing the simulation.

teaching about radioactivity
Experiment Sheets

The most important section of the experiment sheet is the "Procedure" section, which details exactly how you need to lay out the experiment in the simulator. In particular, it shows you well-detailed graphics that explain how you need to lay out and connect the instrumentation to perform the experiment.

If you want, show students how the experiment changes when you change the radiation source type, the distance of the source, or by using different types of detectors.

teaching radioactivity
Experiment Sheets

As a teacher, you may want to make use of the "Create Experiment" tool under the "Administration" menu. This tool actually lets you build a radiation experiment from scratch. This is a built-in wizard that walks you through the process of integrating your own experiment sheet into RADLab.

This process starts with selecting the type of radiation experiment that you'd like to import - whether it's Gamma, Neutron, Alpha or Beta.

teaching radioactivity
Import Experiment Sheet Wizard

The next few steps of the import wizard will allow you to choose the radiation source type that you are basing the experiment on, as well as another step that lets you choose from a list of lab instruments and components that are required as part of your experiment.

teaching radioactivity
Choosing Source and Instruments

Finally, you can title the Experiment, and then important an existing experiment sheet that you may have stored as an HTML. This also lets you bring in experiment sheets which you found online. This can be a very nice feature if you've saved experiment sheets through the years and would like to bring them into RADLab.

If you are building the experiment from scratch, you can create your experiment sheet using the text editor embedded right on this step of the editor.

Creating the Experiment Sheet

Whether they are using a preconfigured experiment sheet or one that you've created as the teacher, students will work off the sheet to lay out and connect all of the instruments in the lab simulation area.

The radiation source is represented by the small nuclear symbol. This source can be place any distance from the detector, which allows students to see how the distance from the source can alter the detection signal.

Running the Simulation

Successfully completed lab setups may produce interesting output signals in the graphic equipment. RADLab allows students to save those graphs as picture files. These picture files can then be used in lab reports or research papers that students might be assigned. The ability to save lab results is a critical part of any good lab simulation software.

Saving Experiment Results

Another interesting simulation tool included in RADLab is the "Draw Particle Paths" selection under the View menu. This selection will enable the particle path simulator, which displays the direction of radiation particles as the burst out of the radiation source. This shows students how the density and distance of those particles can influence the detected radiation levels for that source.

teaching about radioactive decay
Watching Radiation Particles

Overall, the RADLab software can serve as an important part of any science class where radiation and radioactivity is under study. The ability to simulate radiation by using different sources with a safe, digital environment makes it easy for teachers to show the behavior of radioactive particles. Often, the ability to show rather than just tell can greatly boost the understanding of even the most complex subjects.

In this way, RADLab can prove to be a tremendous success in any science classroom.

Written October 3, 2012 by Ryan Dube


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